Some books don’t just have a theme, they have a Theme. In such books, subtlety is not usually a strong point. Neither is character, as all become slaves to the author’s desire to explore (god forbid) a Burning Issue Of Our Times.
Other, much rarer books, fall into a different category. You close the covers and muse on the contents. After a while, a connection between characters suggests itself, then another. You realise there is a pattern of sorts, a common thread. Yet the book seems so perfect, so the characters so convincing, you can’t quite comprehend that the author might have started with a theme in mind. Surely, it must be some sort of coincidence.
I am happy to report that Anne Holt’s Fear Not fell into the second category. The most obvious theme is that of gay relationships. A series of murders appear unconnected, until it becomes obvious that the victims were gay or advocates of gay marriage. So far, so simple. It’s the deeper theme that raises this far above the standard crime novel. That theme is long-term relationships, or the ways in which people adapt to that period when romance seems a distant memory and in its place, the everyday chore of adapting your needs to another being. Gay relationships or straight, Holt explores the various facets of love and the ways in which relationships survive or fail in periods of stress.
I have to admit, I was initially unconvinced by the multiple-viewpoints of the story. Compared to the striking 1222 (which I previously raved about here) it seemed diffuse, harder to understand the story and to find a way in. Yet by the end, I would compare this book favourably with the other. While 1222 was a superb thriller/mystery , Holt’s ambitions here seem to be wider, and the book is richer as a result. Like certain of the Donna Leon novels, she uses the crime as a vehicle for exploring an aspect of society, while never losing the narrative drive.
Anne Holt is rapidly progressing up the list of my favourite writers. Beautifully written and acutely observed, her novels are distinctly Scandinavian but also universal. Mystery or thriller fans of all stripes – or just anyone who appreciates a good story – will find much to enjoy in Fear Not.